Skip To Main Content

A (SUSTAINABLE) TOY STORY

Share this article with a friend.

September 8, 2021

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Notre Dame Prep alumna launches beach toy line aimed at combating global waste.

Alumna Kate Reimann NDP’01 developed a line of toys that feature compostable beach pails, sand sifters and shovels made entirely from plants.

 

By Daniel Lai

When a rogue wave swept her children’s toys into the ocean during a family outing in Virginia five years ago, alumna Kate Reimann NDP’01 did what every good mother would do—she leapt into the water, soaking herself but returning the beloved items to the eagerly outstretched hands and smiling faces of the rightful owners. No one, including Reimann ever expected this chance encounter with nature would result in a business designed entirely around ecofriendly beach toys.

“Knowing what a disaster we have with plastic pollution in the ocean, I jumped in after (the toys) to pluck them out. It was like a ‘not on my watch’ mentality, like an emergency. I’m sure people were watching me like, ‘what’s with this lunatic?!’ Once I got all the toys back, I sat on the shore and had this lightbulb moment: I looked up and down the beach and saw plastic everywhere,” explained Reimann.

“I knew I needed to make better products. I decided then I’d start with beach toys. It seemed so tone-deaf that we were using this destructive material, literally dirty at the beginning of its life and dirty at the end, at the ocean of all places! I was determined to change it. I had absolutely no idea how! But I knew I needed to try.”

Hence Rogue Wave Toys was born. The company specializes in compostable beach pails, sand sifters and shovels made entirely from plants.

“They’re more sustainable than conventional beach toys because conventional plastic is made from petroleum, which is incredibly dirty and not sustainable for a number of reasons. Extracting the oil is a dirty, fuel-intensive process that emits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, then converting that oil into a petrochemical (plastic) requires more greenhouse gas emissions, and whatever that plastic becomes, at the end of its life, it’s not going anywhere,” Reimann said. “It will break down into smaller pieces, leach chemicals into the soil or ocean, but it’s not going to disappear. We create interminable waste when we create and use conventional, oil-based plastics.”

Rogue Wave Toys avoids petroleum extraction, allowing the toys to be compostable at the end of their life.

Notre Dame Prep alum Kate Reimann NDP'01 lives in Hawaii with her husband and two children.


“So, we eliminate a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions, and we solve the plastic waste. We’re currently working with a composting partner to ensure that everyone can compost their products regardless of their access to community or municipal composting sites. The plant-based plastic functions like its oil-based counterpart, and it’s BPA-free, durable and made in the United States!” she said.

Reimann, who graduated from St. Mary’s College with degrees in political science and Spanish, said she never expected interest in the compostable toys to take off.

“If you told me in high school that I’d be making compostable beach toys, I would have called you a liar! I never, ever, had an interest in owning a kids’ toy business, and I have no background in materials science or product design,” Reimann laughed. “But I saw a problem and felt like I had to get into the space to solve it. We’re really using the beach toys as proof of concept—will people pay a higher price for a better material? I found out quickly that, yes, they will. And it’s because people are ready for an alternative as they realize the impacts their consumer habits have on the environment. 

“Our material can be used as a replacement for all kinds of products, so I see this as our entry point. I like to say, we’re making it better, starting at the beach but not stopping there. We’ve had inquiries from other businesses that want to use the Rogue Wave material in their products as well, so I’m excited to be working on that. It’s inspiring to know that this idea resonates with both consumers and business owners, and that people really believe in the idea.”

Now living in Hawaii with her husband, who serves in the U.S. Airforce, Reimann said challenging herself to try new things goes all the way back to her time at Notre Dame Prep.

“I always felt incredibly supported (at Notre Dame Prep), so it felt like an environment where I could truly try anything. And I think, because of the support, I tried and found success in lots of different things—not because of any special abilities I had but precisely because of that support, which built my confidence,” Reimann said. “And that was how I approached other aspects of my life post-high school. I have tried so many different things, from living for two years in Mexico as an English teacher to applying to law school to getting a master’s in education to becoming a freelance writer, and now, running a sustainable startup company. I think the security I have in my capabilities was honed at NDP and it’s shaped the rest of my life.”

She credits longtime Athletic Director and softball coach Betty Wroubel for pushing her to be her best self.

“Ms. Wroubel never settled and, as an underclassman, it was so intimidating when she pulled me up to junior varsity and then varsity (softball). But that was a feeling that I was forced to get comfortable with/leave behind if I wanted to improve. It’s a feeling I have now when I’m in meetings or on calls with people I think are ‘better’ than me in business or in areas of sustainability,” Reimann said. “I try to remember to shake that feeling off, to level up my game, rely on the basics, and bring my best. Who knew that my softball practices were really life lessons?”

Other staff including Director of Admissions Greg Simon, Reimann’s then-political science teacher, and former preparatory school principal Fr. Joe Hindelang, s.m., also come to mind as role models.

“Greg Simon was like family and was one of the reasons the school felt like home. The same goes for Fr. Joe, who married my husband and me. He was someone I knew I had in my corner, and Mr. (Dave) Osiecki. Mr. Smith, AP art, a class where he really let us find our artistic voice, and it was the first time I didn’t have explicit guidance on how to achieve the result—which was terrifying for a perfectionist/overachiever. I wanted specific directions! I wanted to know exactly what he wanted. But he didn’t give instructions, he wanted us to make, to get messy, to explore. There was no map in his class, which ended up being a great crash course in real life, and I wish I had told him,” Reimann said.

“My Spanish teachers, Senorita Rose (Kim Anderson) and Senora Tessada fostered my love of language and were responsible for some of the best years and experiences of my life. I remember a day when I cried to Senora Tessada because I wasn’t improving in my Spanish and felt incredibly frustrated. She told me, ‘We all plateau. But if you want to get to the next level, you have to keep going.’ Another life lesson. Without them, I wouldn’t have lived in Spain, Ecuador, Mexico, or Argentina.”

Reimann said she hopes to continue growing the company in the coming years with a focus on being more competitive in the materials space.

“Part of this endeavor is simply introducing an alternative material to a larger market so we can reduce the overall cost of the material, and eventually make it more accessible for both businesses and consumers,” she said. “That’s the best way to reduce our consumption of petroleum-based products—by creating other options.”

And timing is of the essence, Reimann says, if humanity is to preserve the planet for the next generation.

“At the risk of sounding like a complete downer, if we don’t make some major changes, the future looks bleak. I want better than bleak for my kids. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest findings in August of this year and the report confirms what we suspected: that global temperatures and ocean temperatures continue an upward trajectory at a pace that’s too quick, and will continue to manifest in severe weather, sea level rise, droughts, etc. The major contributing factor is human influence,” she said. 

“There’s a lot of reason to be pessimistic, and sometimes, I am. But what brings me back to center is that phrase ‘human influence.’ In other words, we are the reason we’re here. But we can also be the way out. Which brings me back to the origin/mission of Rogue Wave: to make it better. Because we must. At this point, we have everything to lose. I’m trying to do my part to leave it better than I found it, to be an ‘upright citizen.’”

For more information on Rogue Wave Toys, visit www.roguewavetoys.com. To connect with Kate Reimann on the Alumni Career Network, email alumni@ndpma.org.

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.